We are made of earth

Tecla: the first 3D printed eco-sustainable house

The invisible city

«Whoever arrives at Tecla sees little of the city, behind the plank fences, the sackcloth shelters, the scaffolding, the metal reinforcements, the wooden bridges suspended from ropes or supported by trestles, the ladders, the pylons. To the question: – Why is the construction of Thecla continuing for so long? – the inhabitants did not stop hoisting buckets, lowering plumb lines, moving long brushes up and down. – So that the destruction does not begin, – they answer. And if they are afraid that as soon as the scaffolding is removed, the city will begin to crumble and fall apart, they quickly add in a whisper: ‘Not only the city.

If, dissatisfied with the answers, someone puts his eye to the gap in a fence, he sees cranes pulling up other cranes, frames covering other frames, beams supporting other beams. – What is the point of your building? – question. – What is the purpose of a city under construction if not a city? Where is the plan you follow, the project? – We will show you as soon as the day is over; now we cannot interrupt, – they answer. Work stops at sunset. Night falls on the construction site. It is a starry night. – Here is the project,” they say.»

Tecla is one of Calvino’s “invisible cities”, which differs from the others because it is perpetually under construction. The inhabitants fear the destruction and decline of the city, which is why they strive to constantly renew and redesign it. In honour of the constant urban evolution of this city-building site, architect Mario Cucinella decided to call the eco-sustainable house he designed Tecla.

The peculiarity of this house is that it is made of a mixture of earth taken from the place where it was built, Massa Lombarda in the province of Ravenna, and that it was built by a WASP 3D printer.

The collaboration between Mario Cucinella’s architecture studio and Massimo Moretti, the founder of WASP, has produced the first prototype of an almost completely sustainable house, the result of advanced research into the interdependence of matter and energy, capable of drastically cutting costs and construction times.

New construction

The impetus for reinventing building design and production comes from environmental requirements that are becoming more stringent year by year. Indeed, the construction sector is one of those most responsible for the consumption of energy, soil and resources. It accounts for 30% of total energy consumption and 40% of material consumption. More generally, the cement industry produces 8% of global CO2 emissions.

The construction industry is changing to limit its impact on the environment, renewing itself in the name of resource saving and energy efficiency. One of the first symptoms of this change is the increase in the renovation of buildings instead of new construction.

This strategy is complemented by the use of prefabricated modules, both for private and public buildings, which allow for a flexible real estate market, with buildings that are easy to recycle and renovate. In recent years there has also been a return to the use of traditional materials, such as wood, or the reuse of industrial waste materials.

The house of the future

Tecla is part of this process, an emblem of combining traditional materials with new construction techniques, harmonised by the design structure.

Tecla is just one of the expressions of a broader process, called “non-extractive architecture”, which deals precisely with thinking about new methods of construction and design while seeking to enhance the territory and reuse waste material. In this direction, one of the most far-reaching initiatives is that of Joseph Grima, who has promoted a research residency currently underway at the V-A-C Foundation in Venice.

The mixture used for the building is a mix of raw earth taken from the surrounding area. The mixture consists of clay, silt, sand, rice husks and a fluidifying additive; the exterior is covered with a natural-based plaster.

The cornerstone of Cucinella’s project is therefore to create a sustainable home at 0 km: the cost of transporting raw materials is cut because they are taken directly from the land, and, for the same reason, there are no waste materials and almost everything used is of natural origin. In addition, the use of earth as a construction material, being itself an insulator, gives the home greater energy efficiency.

Tecla’s other major innovation is the construction technique. Crane Wasp is a modular 3D printing system, a printer unit that takes on different configurations depending on the printing area. In this specific case, it is being used to build a house of around 60 m2 whose shape is inspired by the domes of the nests of potato wasps. The printer has an extremely light structure, making it easy to transport, and it runs quickly: it takes only eight days to complete the construction.

Although it is only a prototype, Tecla gives us a glimpse of the future of construction. A future based on sustainability, capable of enhancing the territory by exploiting new technologies.

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